World of Speakers E.02: Michael Houlihan & Bonnie Harvey | One more thing, smile


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World of Speakers E.02 Michael Houlihan & Bonnie Harvey  One more thing, smile

Ryan Foland speaks with Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan, the founders of America’s most popular wine brand, Barefoot Spirit. They are thought-leaders on entrepreneurship and developing a workplace culture.

Bonnie, Michael and Ryan share insights about the top things they have learned about becoming professional speakers, and how to make the transition from speaking for free to getting paid to speak all around the world. They also give a handful of great tips on beating pre-performance jitters. 

Listen to this podcast to find out:

  1. Physical tricks you can do backstage to loosen up
  2. How to play with vocal range to keep your audience awake
  3. The importance of making friends with the audience, before you get on stage
  4. Why you need to show up the venue well before you’re supposed to speak, and other tricks to avoid on-stage, performance-ruining catastrophes
  5. Why you need to do your research on the event before setting price (spoiler: you’ll get paid more) 



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Ryan Foland: Ladies and gentlemen, this is Ryan Foland. You are listening to the World of Speakers podcast. The podcast where we gather the best, most international, brilliant, amazing speakers, so that we can learn about them, we can learn from them, and get their tips on how they are successful speakers around the world.

We only deal with top notch speakers, and today we have two of my favorite top notch people. These are people who literally travel around the world, and have built a business from scratch. Their business is one of the most recognized, if not the most recognized brand.

Whenever you crack a bottle of wine, and pour it into a wine glass and enjoy, there’s a good chance it’s either this type of wine that they’ve created, or you know about it. Hopefully, you have your shoes off, because this is Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan who started Barefoot Wine.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome them. If you have a bottle of wine, please crack it, because this will be the most entertaining 45 minutes you will have had in a long time. Michael is a ginger, and Bonnie is very high energy too. Here we go. How are you guys doing?

Bonnie Harvey: We’re ready to get going here.

Michael Houlihan: They may need a bottle of wine by the end of this interview.

RF: They may need to. Because you guys speak the truth. 

Sometimes the truth is hard to stomach. 

Sometimes you need some wine to stomach that truth.

BH: You’ve got to wash it down with something.

MH: It pairs well with truth.

RF: Wine pairs well with truth. I love it. Michael and Bonnie, if you were to give a high-level story of your path. I mean you guys have had such an amazing career and story. Just you as people, you’re so great.

I’ve read your book. I’m a big fan. I’ve seen you guys speak. I’ve had you come to UCI. We’ve visited a number of times.

But for somebody who doesn’t know you, how do you take them through a short version of your journey essentially?

MH: Well Bonnie and I lived in Sonoma County in a little ranch house. 

One day we had an opportunity. Bonnie’s client was owed $300,000 for grapes that he had been selling to a winery.

The winery declared bankruptcy, but not before we were able to negotiate a deal where instead of paying her client money, they paid in wine and bottling services. Boy, we thought that was really clever, because all of a sudden we had $300,000 worth of wine and bottling services.

Except for one thing, we had to sell it, right? 

How do you sell that much wine? We had to create a label. 

We had to create a marketing program, and all this stuff.

BH: All the licenses.

MH: Don’t forget the licenses, the logistics, and everything else. 

We just got our butts kicked in the real world. It was a 20-year process from the time we were in that laundry room, until we wound up in the boardroom of E&J Gallo with a sale of the winery.

BH: It was a get rich slow scheme, Ryan. Very slow.

MH: The idea is we were the creators of a product that became the world’s largest wine brand. It had very humble beginnings. 

We asked a lot of questions, and we dealt with people.

We like to say make friends with people in low places; the guy driving the forklift, the guy who is stocking the shelves in the store, the person who is in the warehouse. These are all people who will give you insights. 

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on making friends - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue)  Powered by SpeakerHub

Barefoot became just a wildly popular brand because we listened to the people who were involved in the whole distribution chain.

Also, in advertising our brand, we never used commercial advertising. What we did is we supported local, worthy causes and nonprofits.

We got involved with the community, and we gave the members of the non-profits a social reason to buy our product, which is a whole different idea than advertising.

But fast forward 25 years, here we are.

We put together a book which became a New York Times Bestseller called “The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s Number One Wine Brand.” It was on the New York Times Business Book Bestseller list for eight weeks, and we’re very proud of that.

Then we wrote another book called, “The Entrepreneurial Culture: How to Engage and Empower Your People.”

We’ve spoken at 50 schools, and we teach entrepreneurship around the world, and at many conferences and companies.

What we talk about are the lessons we’ve learned. We started with no money, and we started with no knowledge of our industry. Of course, that gave us permission to do everything wrong, and to learn from our mistakes.

We also were very successful in upending the business. The entire industry was disrupted by Barefoot. You have to remember, it was very serious, it was very square, very uptight.

Here comes Barefoot. It’s fun, it has got a slogan like get barefoot and have a great time. That’s pretty much our attitude, the whole barefoot culture. That’s what we’re basically selling today.

We’re not selling wine anymore, now we’re selling ideas. Now Bonnie and I speak. We stand up, and we speak in front of thousands of people at a time sometimes. We tell them our story, and we tell them the lessons we’ve learned. Bonnie, how did you come up with the name anyway?

RF: Whose foot is it on the wine bottle?

BH: Well, we had to come up with a name that was easy to remember, and with a logo that was the same as the name. People used to crush grapes barefoot, so there was a connection there, and that’s why we put a barefoot on our label.

But when I gave the idea and a rough sketch to the artist, she came back with a funny looking foot. I said, “We need a long, thin foot for our label.” She said, “Just give me a picture, I’ll draw whatever you give me.

So, I thought, well where am I going to find a long, thin foot with a high arch? I thought, “Well geez, I’ve got one right here on the end of my leg.” So I put my foot in the biggest ink pad I could find, and put it on some artist paper, and sent that off to our graphic artist. That’s how my foot ended up on the number one wine brand in the world.

RF: You’ve got your foot in many doors, and many households. If you think about it, that’s kind of a crazy thing, your foot on the shelves of many people everywhere.

BH: Yes. I say, “I wanted to dance on everyone’s table.”

RF: So, you guys really come from that experienced based expertise. I think that’s interesting, because everybody has their own experience. I’m curious about your path. I’ve read your book, so I understand that, and I know you guys as friends.

But would you consider public speaking as part of that 20-year process, or were you guys more behind the desk? Now I know, Michael, you were selling, and selling is very much a presentation. But were you guys sharing this journey along the way, or did your speaking really start after you sold the company?

BH: Michael was speaking in front of large audiences with the distributors. I was not. 

I had never been in front of a large audience, except in high school and college a little bit. I did some speaking there.

But I told Michael, I said, “There’s no way I’m going to be a public speaker, that’s just ridiculous. I’m not going to get up, and talk in front of large crowds of people.” Most people are extremely nervous, more nervous about speaking in public than anything else.

The only reason I was able to do it was our first engagement happened to be a large audience, at least I thought it was. It was over 600 people, nearly 700 people. We were interviewed. So we sat down. We didn’t know the questions, but I figured I knew all the answers because I had lived it, so that was easy enough. 

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on questions and answers - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue-Grey)  Powered by SpeakerHub

It was about an hour and fifteen minute interview the first time. After it was over we got a standing ovation. I said, “Hey, maybe I can do this.

RF: I love this idea of you didn’t know what the questions were going to be, but you knew all the answers because you had lived it. That’s a very empowering mentality when you’re going into say an interview situation.

You’re saying that your first main public speaking appearance was an interview.

This interviewee, or the interviewer pulled all those answers out of you. Maybe at that moment, you didn’t realize you were presenting, but you were edified at the end with everyone standing and clapping.

All of a sudden it clicked, right?

BH: Yes. What I’ve learned to do since then that keeps my nerves intact somewhat is I really am interested in satisfying the audience. 

They’ve got a lot of questions, they’ve got a lot of needs. We design our talks to be very specific towards what the audience needs.

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on specific talks - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy)  Powered by SpeakerHub

In a sense, I’m able to put myself aside, my ego aside, and just have this information that I really love to share with other people.

It’s the information that’s coming through me.

It doesn’t matter who is giving it, it just happens to be me.

I can get my ego out of the way, and share the information we learned.

The lessons took us so much time, so much money, so much concentration. It was very painful.

I’m delighted if I can save some people in the audience that kind of pain and money.

Maybe they can hear what I’ve gone through, what Michael’s gone through, and make good use of it in their own lives, in their own business. That’s a real thrill.

RF: Now Michael, before we started recording you were mentioning that you guys have been busier than ever.  Tell me about what’s happening right now. Then once we get an idea of how crazy busy you guys are, I want to jump into some of your best tips.

We just got a little teaser there about really making it all about the audience.

But tell us about your audience right now. I’m following you guys on social media, and it seems like you’re very busy right now.

MH: Yes we are. As far as speaking is concerned, I have been speaking for four years, and Bonnie has been speaking for three years.

She’s right, I spoke to sell the wine, but this is entirely different.

I’m not up there pitching a product, but I am up there trying to help people.

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on helping people - World of Speakers Podcast (Black)  Powered by SpeakerHub

Bonnie and I, we banter back and forth, and people get a big kick out of that. She’ll correct me, or we might say, “Excuse us, we’re going to have an argument right now,” or something. But the bottom line is that you put yourself in the audience’s shoes.

We always ask the host, as we call them, what do you want your attendees to leave with? So that’s the question. What do you want to leave with? Now you put all this money into this convention, or conference, or whatever it is, and you have a purpose, you have a mission statement, what is it?

The first thing is we spent a lot of time asking questions, like we did with Barefoot. We spent a lot of time asking questions of everybody. The second thing that we did is we got some time under our belt.

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on asking questions - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue)  Powered by SpeakerHub

For the first three years we couldn’t get arrested.

We were speaking for free, and pay to play. You know that one? You fly your own butt out to New York, put yourself up in a hotel, and then pay to get around town, and then speak for free.

That goes on for a couple of years.

But ultimately there are people who are in that audience who hear you. They love what you have to say, and they love the way you present it, especially if you’re authentic and sincere. 

They take that feeling into their next job. Their next job might be CMO of a major corporation. They say, “You know what, I’m going to hire Michael and Bonnie.

I’ll give you an example.

We have a friend who owns a big speaker bureau in the United States. We went out to lunch with him in Wisconsin where he lives. We asked, “What’s your biggest problem?” He said, “It’s people like you, like Bonnie.” Because people have heard you, and they’ll hire you, and they will not take speakers from our bureau. We have spent a lot of time building up momentum, and that takes years. I’m not going to tell you you’ll make six figures in six days. This is another get rich slow scheme.

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on the get rich slow scheme - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy)  Powered by SpeakerHub

Then after three or four years, people start to call us.

Somebody calls up and says, “Hey, we’d like you to speak.” We’re going, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Who told you?” “My CMO saw you speak in San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, Miami... or wherever it was, and we think you’d be perfect for this particular event.” That’s how we got started.

That kind of momentum takes place. 

You increase geometrically. It’s not arithmetically. It doesn’t go one...two...three...four….five, it goes one...two...four...eight. What happened to us is we got to the four, eight earlier this year, and we actually booked, I think, about 12 gigs. I should say engagements. Bonnie doesn’t like the “gig” word. We booked 12 engagements in six months, so that’s two a month. They were all paying engagements.

RF: What’s your typical audience size, or does that vary?

BH: It varies hugely. One of the things that we do to get engagements is the people who have heard us speak will say, “We will speak to you and your group if you get us a paid engagement or two in your territory.

RF: You’re using your audience. 

You say, we’re happy to speak to you and your group, or a smaller group, as sort of a one on one, on the condition that they line up some other paid gigs in the area. 

That’s interesting.

BH: Exactly. This one reference that we got that enabled us to get a very well paying engagement was referred by a woman who had a group of C-suiters, a group of higher end CEOs, etc., in a company.

Her group was very small, it only had about nine people. We went there and spoke with her group. Then we did two workshops, and they were about 70 people per workshop. Then we did a keynote talk, and there were over 600 people there. It’s a wide range.

Our last engagement was with 1,200 people, so that was a larger group. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore to me as a speaker the number of people. I get as nervous with a couple of people as I do with a couple thousand, so what the heck?

RF: I think a lot of people share that initial fear. But I like the idea that you’re just as nervous if it’s a small group, as opposed to this massive group. Do you guys have any pre speech rituals?

I do my little pre-stage sway, which is a little crazy, weird dance just to get all the nerves out, and gets the blood going.

What do you guys do beforehand to address that? Or do you just realize that it’s going to happen, and use it to your advantage?

BH: Well aside from the psyche up part, which is where you have to say “I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to be a channel. I’m going to let the knowledge, and the information that the audience wants to hear come through me the way that they want to hear it.” You basically surrender to this idea, just like any good musician. It flows through you, you feel the flow.

Then the other thing to do that isn’t woo-woo at all, it’s very down to basics.

We have a goddaughter who is an Opera Soprano now for the Houston Opera. We asked, “What do you do, Zoey?” She said, “Before I go on I just put my lips together and I go bbbblll.

RF: Wait, are you shaking your head, or is it just a “bbblll”?

BH: No, the bottom line is you’re trying to loosen your facial muscles. 

Because when you’re uptight, your face gets uptight. When your face gets uptight, you don’t get the words out properly. This gal is singing in six languages, so she needs to really have a loose face.

RF: You know what another good one is? I have a dramatic art degree, as well as economics. I took a lot of acting, and produced, and directed.

Have you ever done the one? Where you grasp your hands together, almost like your two palms together with your thumbs crossing. Then you loosen your jaw, and then you just move your arms back and forth. It goes like “ya-ya-ya.”

It loosens up the bottom of your jaw.

Have you done that one yet?

BH: Not yet, but I will try that in the future!

RF: I think you have a point about a loose face, that it’s important.

There’s also scrunching your face up like you at the most sour lemon in the world, squinting your eyes.

 Then trying to become the emoji that has the mouth super wide open, like it was scared, like “AHHH!”.

MH: Ringo Starr calls that the disappearing face, followed by the silent scream.

RF: I like that. You guys are behind stage going “bbblll” and working out your face, and getting nice and loose.

It’s like a warmup for your actual face.

I don’t think many people loosen up their face before they speak.

MH: Well we never did until we talked to our goddaughter. It sure has been great for us. 

Because for one thing, there is nothing worse than listening to a monotone speaker. 

You tend to be monotone when you’re uptight, because you’re concerned about, “Am I on the right slide?” or “Am I getting my ideas across?

You’ve got to remember that you’ve got to keep them awake, they’ve got to be interested in you. You have to have some variety of sound coming out of you. You have to have some layers.

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on having variety - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy)  Powered by SpeakerHub

This helps us have a range. When we speak we can get low, and we can get high.

RF: With a loose face.

MH: Loosen up your face.

RF: How often do you guys speak separately? Most of the time are you speaking together? 

Because I think that’s an interesting dynamic. You guys are very powerful as a team. 

I don’t know how many people are out there team speaking. But tell me about that as a dynamic.

Because maybe there are speakers out there that aren’t as confident by themselves, but if they have a business partner, or somebody else, maybe they would consider doing a combination speech. 

Do you find that easier, more difficult? What are some of the challenges? 

Talk to me about doing the double speech deal.

BH: It’s easier for us, by far. 

First of all, it’s kind of like a comedy act the way we do it. 

Because we both love humor, and it definitely keeps the attention of the audience. 

He and I can play off each other, and do jokes. I do a visual when he’s talking.

The audience has seen me, kind of behind his back, going through all these expressions and hand motions about what’s going on. 

It kind of gets him involved in laughing, which is really fun. 

If I forget something, I just turn to Michael, and he’ll pick it up, and he’ll add it. 

Or if he gets stuck and runs out of gas, if he hesitates and looks at me, I’ll pick it up. It’s really a good partnership, and making sure that we can get all of the information out there, and not losing our own breath.

I actually had a coughing fit on stage once. I had to turn the whole thing over to Michael until I could get my throat back, and go back on and speak. 

But what happens if you’re just an individual and you have a coughing fit? That’s not going to look good. 

Me, I just hid in the closet for a while, and came back out again. 

It was easy.

MH: But when you are speaking as a duo you have to get your handoffs right. When you start speaking, whether you’re single or a duo, you have to hold your ground for the first 10 or 15 seconds that you speak. Don’t be waltzing around on the stage. You want to establish yourself. This is body language.

Then after you’ve established yourself, then you take a step toward the audience. When you break that space that you’ve had for the first 10 seconds, and then you take that step towards the audience, the audience recognizes that you are engaging them, and they will engage with you. 

Then if you do hand off, after you hand off you take a step back, and you step behind the person you’ve handed off to. Your physical location relative to the front of the stage is a factor.

RF: I love that idea of establishing yourself. You’re almost establishing that origin point. 

Then moving forward towards the audience, that’s an impactful difference. Then you’ve got this sort of away and behind.

I see a lot of speakers who don’t fully utilize the space that they have on stage. Or they’re unfortunately utilizing it, because they don’t realize that they’re pacing back and forth. People may be losing their message because they’re having a hard time even tracking them.

Ryan Foland - Quote on losing and tracking your message - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue-Grey)  Powered by SpeakerHub

I think that that idea of blocking, and use of stage is highly underused. 

Especially when it comes to large audiences, where you may be a little speck from somebody who is in the back row of a 1,200 person theater.

MH: As long as we’re talking about body language...Bonnie, you wanted to say something?

BH: Oh I do. I do want to say something. Michael has a tendency to overrun me.

MH: What do you mean?

BH: I have to jump in there, and fight my way in to speak. 

But other speaking tips. It’s not when you’re speaking, but it’s preparing yourself to be relaxed and comfortable with the stage.

Before, or as the audience is starting to come in there’s a few things that we do. We’ll always go on stage and look at the whole venue.

We’ll see if there’s a camera that’s going to be on us, where it’s coming from.

If we’ve got a screen behind us, we want to make sure that we’re not blocking it with our bodies.

If we’re using PowerPoint or slides, we want to make sure the advancer has good batteries, new batteries every time. That’s where we’ve had the most problems on stage, is with an advancer. You want to check out your speakers, and your lapel mics, and make sure that they’re all working right.

Get a feel for the venue so you feel comfortable on stage.

Know how many steps there are to get up on stage. Make sure the podium is not directly in front of where you want to be, or in front of your slideshow.

Another thing that Michael and I really believe in is introducing ourselves to the audience as they come in the door.

RF: Talk to me about that. I do not believe people are doing that.

BH: We’re making friends in the audience, so we’ve got friendlies out there that we’re talking to. They’re not strangers, they’re people we’ve met.

RF: Instead of hiding behind stage waiting for it to happen, you’re in the actual audience, or by the door greeting people, and saying hi, and having that small talk beforehand. That’s brilliant.

BH: Oh yes.

MH: We actually had a host back east at a big college that teaches entrepreneurship. He said, “Well, you guys can just wait in the green room and we’ll turn the light on when you come out.

Bonnie said, “nothing doing.” She said, “I’m going to meet everybody as they come in. She took one side of the audience, I took the other side, and we shook hands with probably 200 people before we went on.

BH: We give them our business card.

MH: Give them a business card!

Now they have a relationship with you. You ask them a question, you say something to them using their name. You look them in the eye when you shake their hand, and you give them your business card. This is all establishing a good, solid foundation before you open your mouth.

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on establishing foundation - World of Speakers Podcast (Black)  Powered by SpeakerHub

RF: I like to tell people that your speech starts when they see you.

If you are on the side of the stage, and you’re nervous, and whatever happens, your speech has started. 

You’re taking this to a whole other level where you’re making yourself seen. You have control over when your speech starts, and you’re interfacing, and you’re already building that rapport.

I don’t think people realize the power of using someone’s name. 

You bring that up, and I think it’s a great point. That your own name is probably your favorite word in the entire world.

It’s the name that you’ve heard so much. Even as a kid, there’s just a visceral reaction to it. When you use someone’s name after you’ve met them very early on, they like you that much more.

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BH: Yes, they do, Ryan.

RF: Thank you, Bonnie.

BH: Michael, what do you think about all of that?

MH: The other thing too that we think is it’s important is to show up three or four hours before the event, or even the day before the event, and check out the venue. When there’s nobody in there except the tech guys.

Because we have run into all kinds of technical issues. Like Bonnie said, no batteries in the advancer is really common.

About one out of four times, the advancer will die. The other thing that happens is the lapel mics will die, or something will go wrong with the lapel mics.

Or you’ll get out there and you won’t realize that that particular stage has a place where feedback occurs.

If you step into that part of the stage, you’re going to get a loud, whining sound that’s going to blow everybody out of the house.

You have to know where those areas are so you don’t go into those areas, and set those sirens off.

BH: Also sometimes the lights are so extremely bright right in your eyes that you just have to do something about that. 

It’s just not tolerable.

RF: One of the things that just really irks me that people don’t seem to pay attention to, or they’re not aware of, is when the projector from the PowerPoint is piercing their forehead, or they’re standing in front of it.

They don’t realize it, but they’ve got the bottom half of their PowerPoint on their forehead, or they’re just blatantly standing right in front, and then their face is all discolored and everything like that.

To know that you have the wrong type of light on your face is so important.

Because little things like that will distract the audience from your message.

Then they’ll be thinking, does he really know that he’s standing in front of the projector?

They missed your last point, they’re disengaged. It has nothing to do with what you’re saying, it’s where you’re standing, and the way that you’re positioning yourself on the stage.

MH: Exactly. Where you’re standing, and how you position yourself is the key. Because you have to remember, that projector is sending out a triangle of light. Which means the closer you get to the projector, the narrower it is in diameter.

That triangle of light that’s being presented, that beam, you can actually stand right next to it and now be in it if you were right next to the projector. But that’s probably asking too much. Ideally, we’ve been on stage where they’re projecting from the back, or they have it way up on the top, or on the sides. Bonnie wants to talk, so let her…

BH: I give him all these signs.

MH: Yeah. Like twisting my ear until it bleeds.

BH: I had a funny situation, Ryan. 

They say that the best color for the camera, or for an audience to see is this dark royal blue color. I’ve got this lovely dress in exactly the right color. I think, “This is just ideal,” and I wear this beautiful blue dress.

We got to our venue a day ahead of time, which we do whenever we can. Guess what color the back curtain was? 

Exactly the same color as my dress. I could have died. I would have disappeared if I had worn that dress.

There was a cocktail party, I had another dress, and I just switched the cocktail dress for the blue one. I wore the blue one to the cocktail party, and people could actually see me on the stage. You’ve got to have an extra outfit for any reason like that.

You don’t want to wear too many patterns. There’s certain patterns that the camera will freak out on. 

People get confused if they see too many colors and patterns up there on stage. 

It’s best to keep it simple in your clothing.

MH: Like Bonnie said, go the day before to see what color the backdrop is before you put on your dress or your suit.

We see so many people that think it’s cool to wear all black. Then they step in front of a black curtain, and they are a talking head.

BH: If that’s what they want to be, fine, they’ve succeeded. But that might not necessarily be their goal.

MH: The other thing too is we usually move the lectern, the podium, we move it off to the side. They need it to introduce you. We don’t believe in having anything between us and the audience.

A lot of people feel secure because they’re behind the podium, and that’s a false sense of security.

You want them to see you. They’re going to accept you more if they see your whole form, because you have so much body language; how you stand, how you walk, how you use your hands. You don’t want any of that to be missing.

What’s the other problem that we see all the time?

BH: Well it’s just a little challenge that has to be taken care of.

Once again, ahead of time. Prep is so important. I drink a lot of water on stage. I get thirsty. I need to have water.

Sometimes the podium has a slant to it, and you can’t put a water glass up there, it has got to be a water bottle. Okay, then put the water bottle up there.

Sometimes if you’ve removed that stand altogether from the stage, you need a table. They’ve got to get a table, and put my water on the side that I’m going to be on, to make sure I can get access to my water.

Of course Michael, he wants some too, so we’ve got two little tables there, each with a little bit of water on them. Those are concerns.

You don’t want to get stuck without them. You need to prepare yourself so there’s no unforeseen, possibly if that is such a thing, problems that will pop up. If you can prepare for them ahead of time, then you’re much more relaxed.

RF: I dig it. What I love about these examples is these are things that you’ve learned from experience.

Just like how you are the authority when it comes to entrepreneurship, it’s because you spent 20 years failing through it.

That’s what’s so valuable about learning from people who are in a place of expertise through experience.

Looking at the back of a curtain wall before you go on stage, showing up early. Meeting the people you’re going to talk to before they come in the door. All of these things are great, and I appreciate all of them.

We could probably go on for another two hours, and we should do that. We should write a book together about public speaking through failing, and all the mishaps.

But I want to get into your advice for people who want to get paid for speaking.

Now we touched on this. It sounds like the first part is you’ve got to put in your own sweat equity, real equity into it, and pay to play before you get paid to play.

If you were to step somebody into the right direction that is speaking, they’re starting off. Or they’re already a talented speaker, and they’ve cut their teeth, but they can’t seem to get paid.

Talk to those people right now. How can people cross the distance fastest to earning an income, or side money, or making this a gig that actually works?

What do you tell those people? What is your advice?

BH: Well, first of all, Ryan, if you’ve got an audience, and you go there, and you speak for free, and they like you, the host or hostess of the audience can give you an endorsement.

You use that endorsement to get another engagement.

Now that the host has given you an endorsement, the host wants to prove that they’re right.

They might even help you get another engagement themselves, as long as they’ve endorsed you. You’re headed on the right track that way.

Another way is to give people your business card, and without selling, which is a terrible thing I think to do from stage, at least in our position, our way of speaking.

But you want to let your audience know that you are available. That you do conferences, that you do consulting, that you do go into organizations to help them communicate better with their staff, these kind of things.

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on availability - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue)  Powered by SpeakerHub

All these things that Michael and I do. If you can say that during part of your talk without it being an ad, that is another way to help get the word out.

It doesn’t necessarily get you paid at that moment, but it does make more people aware that you’re available.

MH: For instance, you might say that’s a great question. When we were speaking in New York for such and such a company last month, we got that question. Here’s what we answered at that time.

So in the process of answering a question, you can let them know in your own way, in a non-salesy way, that you are a professional speaker.

Here’s the other thing. Don’t use the word “public speaker.” Public speakers don’t get paid. Call yourself a professional speaker.

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on professional speaker not public speaker - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy)  Powered by SpeakerHub

RF: I dig that. Don’t say you’re a public speaker, say that you’re a professional speaker.

MH: That’s right. Another tip is a lot of venues will try to con you into believing that if you speak for free, that you’re going to be speaking in front of the very people who can buy whatever else you’re selling in your day job.

If you think about that, that’s a real con job.

They may, but the fact is do they really want somebody up there whose primary job is to sell you a used Chevy?

I don’t think so.

I think they want somebody up there who is giving you tools you can use, and sending them out the door with the feeling they want.

Once again, this gets back to the difference between platform selling, and delivering tools and content.

Once you get a reputation, here’s the thing, when people endorse you, ask them to endorse you for what it is that you gave their audience that their audience can use tomorrow.

RF: Instead of did I do a good job speaking, it’s what the audience are left with as a result.

MH: That’s right. The reason you’re getting paid is not so much because you’re a speaker. It is because you are delivering the goods. You are actually making a transaction. You pay me the money, I give you the goods. Here’s what the goods are, here’s what other people have said the goods are.

You are actually offering to improve their situation. You’re improving their bottom line, you’re improving their ability to communicate, you’re improving their company culture, whatever it is that you’re improving.

That’s the way to get paid. The other thing too is: don’t talk price when you are negotiating a speaking gig.

BH: That’s the first thing that the other party will say.

What’s your price? You can’t answer that.

What you’ve got to say is what are you looking for? Who is your audience? Are they paying to be there? What’s your budget? There’s a good question.

MH: We always take a look at any conference that we’re going to speak at, or are considering speaking at, and say, what are they charging? If a seat is $300, $800, $1,500 we say, “Okay, these guys have a budget.”

RF: I love this idea of not negotiating price, but doing your research before there’s any negotiation.

MH: That’s right. The first thing is you don’t go to the negotiation without knowing what they’re going to collect. So, you see that they’re going to have 1,500 people, and they’re going to pay $300 each. You do the math.

Take their gross budget. You cut it in half for the venue. You cut that again in half for their overhead, and the rest is for speakers. That gives you some idea of their budget.

What we’ve found is you don’t ever want to get into a situation where you’re trying to defend your speaking rate. You want them to want you before they know your price. That’s old fashioned selling 101. 

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on when to talk about your price - World of Speakers Podcast (Black)  Powered by SpeakerHub

That means you have to be ready to understand what it is they want. Ask more questions, and listen really closely. If they say, what are your fees? You ask, how many people are coming?

BH: How many speakers do you have?

Is this a one-day event, a one-hour event, a one-week event?

MH: What do you hope to get out of it?

Why are we doing this?

Who is your favorite speaker?

Who is a favorite speaker you’ve had in the past?

Now you start to get some ideas about where they’re at.

You want to work within their budget. But they’re always going to fib about the size of their budget.

You have to be careful, and figure out a way.

When you finally get to the point where you’re giving them your price, the way we like to do it is we like to say, “Well, when we speak for schools and nonprofit organizations that don’t have a speaking budget, we charge $2,000. But it costs us $3,000 to do the event, so we actually lose money on it, because of transportation, and preparation, and logistics, and all of this stuff.”

Then when we work for organizations, we work for $5,000. But on those we still have all this overhead and everything else. They get the idea that you’re not making a lot of money. 

I want to tell you you’re not, you’re not making a lot of money on speaking.

BH: But you always want all your expenses covered, no matter what else is going on.

MH: You want to find out who handles their budget. 

For instance, some organizations will handle transportation entirely separate than say food and lodging. They’ll handle that entirely separate from the speaking fee.

BH: Schools and universities, in particular, do that.

MH: You want to determine all this. You’re talking to them about pricing, but you’re not giving them the price. You want to find out things like how many nights will you have to be there.

If you’re going to arrive, you want to arrive the day before the talk. Because even if it’s a late afternoon or evening talk, you don’t want to arrive the same day, because there’s a big chance that the plane could be delayed. You want to arrive early.

Now you’re talking about overnight the night before the talk. Then you’re talking about overnight the night of the talk, and then you’re flying out the next day. You get them to agree to those kinds of things first. You’re already starting to agree on things before you come up with a whopper of what you’re going to charge to actually do the talk.

I like to go in with a range. Here’s what we do for nonprofits. Here’s what we do for organizations. Here’s what we do for commercial companies. Obviously, if we’re going to speak overseas, we have to make a big commitment to go there in time, energy, and everything else, planning, and so we charge more for that. So to get an idea of where you are.

But I can just turn over all the cards right now and tell you that there are some sweet spots out there. If you’re pretty much an unknown it’s $2,000 to $5,000, and that’s with them picking up all of the expenses. If you are overseas it might be $10,000.

They’re going to try to talk you into speaking for free all the time, so you have to finally stop doing that.

We stopped doing that about two years ago.

We just said, “oh no, we’re not going to speak for free.” 

Interestingly enough we started to get events where people were offering to pay us.

Then as far as speaking in the United States, is it in your state, or do you have to travel to another state? So, that’s always an issue.

You have to remember, if you’re on the road to do a speaking gig, and you’re going to make $5,000 on that speaking gig, you are out of business the day before the gig, the day of the gig, and the day after the gig.

You’re not going to be making money doing anything else. So you’re sacrificing three days of your professional time for $5,000.

BH: But if you want to work out a new routine, maybe you can give it to your local chamber of commerce, or your local JC, or some audience that’s near you, so you are getting the benefit of their feedback. There’s nothing wrong with doing that free of charge. You also want to support your community of course. That’s a good way of doing it.

RF: I think your next book should be the Barefoot Speaking Book. Barefoot Speaking, I think that could be an interesting idea of…

BH: The Barefoot Way, exactly. 

Return on involvement. It’s a different kind of ROI, return on involvement. Being involved with your community, being involved with everyone that you’re dealing with, or your product, or your service.

MH: Or your audience, or your sponsor, or the company, or their goals. We call it ROI, return on involvement.

RF: I love that. Well I appreciate you guys being involved in this World of Speakers effort, because we really want to give back to the community, and empower people with the tools that they need to become successful, not public speakers, but professional speakers.

I always like to say that successful professional speakers, it’s not that they’re doing things that everybody else cannot do. Successful professional speakers are doing what everyone else can do, but not everyone else does.

Your examples are so key, of things that everybody can do, but not everybody does. I mean you guys have done it, and that’s what makes you successful, that’s what will continue to make you successful.

What you’re doing for entrepreneurs is so inspiring, because you’re taking your 20 years of experience, packaging it into books, into courses, into programs, into talks, and giving it back. If there someone who is listening to this audio who is not interested in following up and finding more information about your and your resources, they have something coming to them.

But for every other person who listens to this and is like, I need more on what these guys are doing, and how to get some more of their resources, where would you point them? How do people find more information on what you guys have, and the resources you offer?

BH: Thank you very much for asking Ryan. You will go to

MH: You can also tweet us @barefoot_spirit. We’ll tweet you right back, and tweet you around, and retweet you in every other way.

RF: Well, hey, it is always a pleasure. I’m looking forward to Syn and I to come up there and spend some time with you guys on your wine farm. It has been too long since we’ve seen you, so let me know when you guys are back in town. Us gingers will get together, and we’ll rock on.

MH: Yes. Let’s make it soon.

BH: That sounds like an excellent plan Ryan.

RF: We’ll drink some wine. We’ll interview each other informally as we just share what’s going on. Because the more I interact with you guys, like other successful people, the more I learn. So I am humbled to be able to be your friend, and continue to learn.

At my next speaking engagement, I’m going to stand at the door, and meet people, and hand out cards right off the bat. I think that’s amazing. That’s probably the biggest takeaway from all the stuff we talked about today.

BH: One more thing, smile.

Ryan Foland with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey - Quote on smiling - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue)  Powered by SpeakerHub

RF: I love it. Yes. That’s how you win friends and influence people at the same time. Smile, smile, and then smile. I’ve got a big smile on my face. I hope you guys do too, and I hope your cat does as well.

MH: Very good.

BH: Well thanks, Ryan. Come by anytime. We’ll keep the light on for you.

RF: Thanks, guys. We’ll see you soon.

BH: Bye.

RF: Ladies and gentlemen, this was a pleasure to bring you Michael and Bonnie, two barefoot speakers who have been there, done that, and will continue to do it. So check them out. We will see you all online, and in the World of Speakers on our next episode.


A bit about World of Speakers

World of Speakers is a weekly podcast that helps people find their own voice, and teaches them how to use their voice to develop a speaking business.

We cover topics like: what works versus what doesn't, ideas on how to give memorable presentations, speaking tips, and ideas on how to build a speaking business.

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